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METLZER: The Anatomy of a Comeback

How the Flyers pulled it off on Saturday vs. Columbus; fell short on Sunday at Long Island

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer /

On Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers trailed the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-2, midway through the third period and then exploded for five goals to skate off with a 7-4 victory. The next night in Uniondale against the New York Islanders, a comeback bid fell short in a 5-3 loss. 

In both games, the Flyers starting goaltender (Brian Elliott on Saturday, Carter Hart on Sunday) was not at his best. Both opponents entered the game on hot streaks: the Blue Jackets were on a six-game point streak, while the Islanders brought in a six-game winning streak. In both games, the Flyers scored first only to subsequently fall into multi-goal deficits. 
So why did the Flyers succeed in Saturday's comeback bid and fail on Sunday? 
In a nutshell, the answer lies in what happened in the first two-plus periods. Against Columbus, the Flyers outplayed their opponent even prior to the comeback. In New York, the Flyers got outplayed before a too-little-and-too-late push.  
Here a look inside how the two games unfolded.
Saturday: Persistence Pays Off vs. Columbus
The Flyers largely outplayed Columbus over the majority of the first 42 minutes of the game. That was scant comfort, however, as Josh Anderson pounced on the carom of a Dean Kukan shot off the end boards and deposited it into the net at 2:14 of the third period.
"It is smoke and mirrors that we are up by 2 at that time. I just don't think we played well enough. I don't think we played hard enough," Columbus head coach John Tortorella said.
Flyers goaltender Elliott, who had played brilliantly in each of his two previous starts, was not as his best on this night. However, he battled for pucks and both he and the rest of the team felt the game was still winnable. 
"The feeling was we were going to come back. Even if they got that 4th one there, I thought the guys really stuck with it and played to our strengths and I think I don't know if I deserve that win so much, but the guys definitely did," Elliott said.
The ice was tilted throughout most of the third period, with the Flyers blasting 17 shots on goal to just five for Columbus. Overall, Philly had a 35-17 shot edge over the final 40 minutes of the game. Finally, with time ticking down near nine minutes left in regulation, the Flyers narrowed the deficit to 4-3 at 10:43.
Travis Sanheim pinched in to receive a pass from team captain Claude Giroux but fired a shot wide of the cage. Giroux and Hayes combined to win a battle behind the net. Hayes quickly swooped out in front of the net but was denied by goalie Joonas Korpisalo. Giroux reclaimed the puck and passed it to Shayne Gostisbehere at center point.
Ghost quickly hammered a one-timer at the net. The shot hit Columbus' Nick Foligno and, still with plenty of steam on it, deflected up and into the net. Korpisalo didn't have a chance.
"One up. The biggest thing was how we responded going down two goals in the third. Maybe some past games, we would have folded and gave that one away," Gostisbehere said.
At 12:37, the Flyers pulled even at 4-4. James van Riemsdyk has always been a streak scorer. After experiencing a rough start to the season -- zero points through seven games despite a slew of chances -- he now has three goals and four points in his last two games. 
JVR tallied the Flyers' second goal of the game, a power play marker, that briefly tied the score at 2-2 before the Blue Jackets reclaimed the lead a mere 45 seconds later. Now he pulled the Flyers even for a second time. 
On the play, van Riemsdyk parked near the net and re-directed a shot that a pinching Ivan Provorov sent at the net. Jakub Voracek earned the secondary assist.
"It's always weird how those things happen. You feel a little snake-bitten and try not to let you affect you mentally but just those little subtleties and different things that you start squeezing a little too tightly. It felt nice to get one last game and carry it over to tonight," van Riemsdyk said.
At 14:24, with the Flyers skating shorthanded, Kevin Hayes put Philadelphia ahead, 5-4. The Wells Fargo Center was temporarily quieted as Sean Couturier, one of the team's most crucial penalty killers, was sent to box for tripping at 14:03. The Flyers, 4-for-4 on the penalty kill up to this point, would have to kill another one. As it turned out, they'd do even more than that.
With Couturier in the box, Hayes lost the first faceoff of the kill. Columbus had want what they wanted: instant puck possession in the Flyers' zone. The Blue Jackets had the puck up high. At 14:16, Hayes picked off a D-to-D pass from Cam Atkinson intended for Ryan Murray and saw nothing but open ice ahead of him.
On the shorthanded breakaway, Hayes went in 1-on-1 with Korpisalo. The center went to his backhand then back to his forehand. Korpisalo made the initial save with his pad, but Hayes stayed with the rebound and flipped it over the goalie to put the Flyers ahead, 5-4.
"No actual move [in mind], I just wasn't going to shoot it. He stopped two earlier with shots. He made a save and luckily the rebound was right there," Hayes said.
Four games ago, Flyers head coach Alain Vigneult moved Hayes down in the lineup from a line with Giroux. The team captain moved from left wing to center a line with van Riemsdyk and Voracek. Hayes centered a line with rookie Joel Farabee and Scott Laughton (who sustained a broken finger in the second period of Saturday's game, and will be out a projected four weeks). Hayes responded well to the new assignment.
"I moved him onto a different line. Took him off the powerplay. Told him to focus on playing a 200-foot game and play well on the PK, which he has done for us the last three games. It's funny how it works. Offensively, he's getting more looks and better looks. He found a way to finally find the back of the net, which is big for us," Vigneault said of Hayes' fourth goal of the young season.
The Wells Fargo Center crowd was now in a frenzy. The players and coaches on the Flyers bench, although exultant in celebrating the Hayes' shortie, quickly got refocused with 5:36 still left to play. Subsequently, the Flyers closed out the game in strong fashion. With 1:39 left in the game, Michael Raffl sealed the deal with an empty netter after an initial attempt by Hayes was blocked.  
In the final 41 seconds of the game, Pierre-Luc Dubois took a slashing penalty. With Korpisalo back in the net, the Flyers' power play (2-for-4 on this night) cashed in quickly. Off a pass from Matt Niskanen Travis Konecny fired a deflected shot from the right side that found the net for his fifth goal of the season, tying him with Oskar Lindblom for the team lead.
Vigneault was asked if there one particular play that turned the tide in the third period; perhaps the Gostisbehere goal that started the comeback or the Hayes shorthander that tied it. 
The coach replied, "I don't think there was one specific turning point. I think we deserved to win this game. We were the better team. Had a real strong second period, tightened it up, gave up that third goal. We gave up an early goal in the third and our guys just kept playing and kept battling. Basically after two periods, that's what we said. We were going to find a way to win this game and that's what we did."
Sunday: Unable to Dig out of hole in Long Island
Entering Sunday's game, the Flyers brought in the NHL's top differential in shot attempts and high-danger chances. On this night, however, they'd have much of the pace dictated to them by the Islanders rather than the other way around.
"I think this was the first game this season where we really got outskated," Jakub Voracek said. "We didn't skate bad, but they skated better than we did. They came with a lot of forechecking pressure and played physical." 
Added Vigneault, "They got their first man in on our D, and we were turning pucks over."
The Flyers struggled in puck battles on this night. There were a few too many defensive breakdowns and Philly did not get the starting goaltending they needed to weather the storm.
After starting out the regular season with three straight strong performances including the first shutout of his NHL career, Carter Hart has struggled in each of his last three outings and has been pulled in the second period of two. On Sunday, he stopped just nine of 14 shots. One goal was off a preventable rebound. Another was a heavy but unscreened point shot. On other shots, he was a little bit off his angles.
Elliott relieved Hart at 8:46 of the second period. Elliott kept the score where it was (5-2) even as he was severely tested multiple times in the third period. Overall, Elliott stopped all 19 shots he faced. He held the score at 5-2 but the team in front of him wasn't able to make much headway.
With 2:56 left in the game, Voracek won a puck battle behind the net and van Riemsdyk passed out in front to an open Giroux, who scored from prime range to narrow the deficit to 5-3. The Flyers immediately pulled Elliott for a 6-on-5 attack but drew no closer. Final shots were 33-31 in the Islanders' favor.

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